Monday, 15 October 2012

Amateur Astronomy and the Demographic Time Bomb

This picture was taken at the recent joint meeting of the British Astronomical Association Variable Star Section and subscribers to "The Astronomer" magazine.

What do you notice?

The audience is overwhelmingly male and almost as overwhelming looking over 65. I'm left wondering what will be the fate of groups like this in 10 years time? Where are the ladies and where are the younger members?

Despite all the time, money, energy and enthusiasm thrown at "Citizen Science" we are not getting enough young people into the hobby. If I was in my 20s or 30s I'm not sure I would feel comfortable joining a group that is so clearly dominated by retired people. It would be rather like joining the bowls club or engaging in "Walking for Health".

It all serves to remind me of the fate of some philatelic groups I used to belong to - used being the crucial word. These groups faded and died because the members felt unable or unwilling to move with the times. Broadening the appeal of the group was fought tooth and nail to the bitter end and some hardliners quite genuinely preferred to see the group close down rather than compromise on any aspect of the way the group operated.

Most of these hardliners have now moved on to the great meeting room in the sky. In most cases the legacy they left has been minimal because their vast knowledge of their chosen specialism was never recorded for posterity and died with them. In far too many cases the groups they supported with time and money over decades also died with them.

It is all very sad.  

1 comment:

  1. If people are interested/keen, they will come. A prime example that I know of would be Newbury Choral Society. With the exception of 2 girls about my age (poss a bit younger) who sang in the soprano section and who I never spoke to, EVERYONE was well into middle age and beyond. Some were certainly very elderly. But because I have an interest in choral singing, it never bothered me that I'd be the youngest there. In fact it was nice to have "older" friends who took me under their wing!
    The thing with astronomy is that kids aren't really exposed to it in school very much. At secondary school it might consist of a 3-week unit once a year or so. Certainly not enough to get a real interest going. To develop an interest in anything, people need regular exposure and a chance to try it out for themselves.
    Singing is easy, you've got everything you need in your neck. But astronomy often needs quite large sums of money behind it, as well as a desire to spend that money. But you won't have that desire without kids in school learning that there's something to be interested in in the first place.